In case you missed it, the new trailer for Ghostbusters (2016) has made most people queasy. The reaction to it was so bad that Sony literally started deleting negative comments on social media to hide the popular distaste for the film’s premise of an all female Ghostbuster team. Many women on blogs and various other social media also agree that an all female cast is stupid and hokey, and that’s because it is. If you have a good eye for detail and look at the preview you’ll notice a clone of the intro library scene from the first movie, and you’ll also see three white scientists being joined by a black person whose ‘tough’, an idea ripped directly from the first film. And now the secretary is a man instead of a women; a six foot model-like muscular alpha male. In case you’re not getting the big picture, this is what we call a denial of reality, where a fabricated reality replaces plausible reality because it's fun to live in Fantasyland.
The film is probably going to suck, but still make a ton of money due to (fake) IMDb reviews and a 'bought and paid for' media. Another film it reminds me of is the new Star Wars film, which was a very skillful re-skin of Episode IV: A New Hope with a woman playing the role of Luke Skywalker, supposedly his daughter or something. Strong opinions have been raised about this female lead because she literally can do no wrong, can fly the Millennium Falcon better than Han Solo even though she’s never stepped in it before, can defeat a Sith with little to no training, beats anyone up who challenges her, can pull a Jedi mind trick within minutes of discovering the force and repeatedly emphasizes that she doesn't need the help of a silly 'man'. We call this type of character a Mary Sue, a seemingly perfect character with no flaws, no shortcomings and no hurdles to overcome who saves the day over and over. Incidentally for those of you who have studied narrative and storytelling in general, one of the golden rules of getting people to invest in a character is giving that character something to overcome so that you can see that character progress over the course of the story. If they can do everything out of the box, then what’s the point?
I say all of this because a lot of misogyny is floating around the internet stating that Hollywood is becoming more and more pro-female and that this is part of some agenda. If you look at Hollywood history, even recently, there are TONS of good movies with female lead characters that display vulnerability, femininity and strength while remaining plausible enough. Here are some movies that prove it while at the same time making some pretty interesting albeit subtle suggestions about women and their role in society...
12 Punchline (1988)
While the movie isn't that great, that isn't the point. Sally Field kills it in this movie and presents a female character that most women should be proud to emulate. She's got a husband, three kids and she still finds the time to kick off her stand-up comedy career and she's actually really funny and impresses the TV executives watching by the end of the film. Punchline presents motherhood and taking care of a household as a tough job that not just anyone can do properly. It doesn't glorify or demonize raising kids, it just tries to depict it in a believable and comedic manner. There's no agenda here, just an admirable female character who gets to have her family and aspire to her career. Also she resists the urge to cheat on her husband with Tom Hanks' character...imagine that; a Hollywood movie that suggests that it's better not to screw up your marriage and seek out excitement, granted Hanks' character is still not over his childhood wounds and thus not all that appealing.
11 Bridesmaids (2011)
This comedy got everything right; it was sharp, hilarious, absurd and it wouldn’t stop raising up the absurdity levels. Kristen Wiig is hilarious as the female lead in the film, and unlike the new Ghostbusters, an all female group of bridesmaids actually makes SENSE! We’re presented with a post-30 woman who’s kind of desperate to settle down with someone and has to settle for Mr. nice guy because Mr. bad boy doesn’t hold her in the esteem she had hoped for...incidentally this plot is also totally plausible and many people with real life experience can relate to it. In the end we get the typical Hollywood b.s. ending where the nice guy, despite being traipsed on repeatedly, keeps coming back for more punishment. All that fluff aside, Wiig’s character is obviously flawed, but admirable in her struggle and genuinely likable. You really feel for her struggles over the course of the film and want her to find happiness by the end.
10 Terminator 2 (1991)
You could include the first movie in here I suppose but the emphasis ramps up in the second film pretty heavily. Linda Hamilton’s character is kind of crazy and is in perma-PTSD or something, ready for the bomb to fall at any moment and she plays it perfectly. She retains a certain cynicism and cruelty which gets in her way and almost costs her dearly by attempting to murder an innocent man and his son. The action sequence in which she escapes from the hospital remains plausible considering the suggestion that she has undergone intense military training in her past, and she exhibits obvious vulnerability in wanting to protect her son and keep him safe. Overall the character projects enormous strength of character and determination, but remains fatally flawed, which is what makes it easy to empathize with her. It's worth noting that Terminator 2 is making a comment about single parent childhoods and how reckless kids are without a father around, as is evidenced by how emotionally attached John Connor becomes to Arnie over the course of the film.
9 Erin Brockovich (2000)
Lots of films follow the theme of fighting against corporate corruption to save the common man, and this one headlined by Julia Roberts works on several levels, particularly because of Roberts’ Oscar worthy performance. She’s charming at times and obnoxious at others but overall the performance is even and entertaining. Granted Roberts is a better looking woman than the real life person she is portraying, but it’s somewhat excusable. Her character displays tons of guts, determination, willpower and a desire to advance and protect her family while remaining feminine and vulnerable at appropriate times. Once again, the image of a mother as capable of being a mom AND doing something else of meaning with her life is portrayed, even though she’s a single mom. It's interesting to note she uses her sexuality when necessary but remains dignified about it, since you know, it's okay to be feminine.
8 Kill Bill 1/2 (2003, 2004)
I know what you’re thinking, Uma Thurman kills like 100 Yakuza gang members with barely a scratch on her; in one scene she even slices a dude in half right down through his skull. How is that even remotely plausible? Well it isn’t, it’s Tarantino doing his best to present absurd, over the top, realer than real action sequences that are totally fantastical, a cinematic homage to Japanese anime or something. The whole point is to entertain with those action sequences, but the character of The Bride comes close to dying more than once, with only luck saving her in several cases. The films also stress her intense training with great Kung Fu masters that resulted in her skills. She obtained them through grueling and painful trials, which we got to see up close and personal, and she’s a mom, as her end goal isn’t just about revenge but also about getting her daughter back. If they redid Kill Bill today the Kung Fu master who trained her would be a woman who was the abused mistress of a wicked Kung Fu master whom she brutally killed after stealing all his secrets...wait isn't that a character from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon? Of course she's depicted as mega evil in that film, I wonder why.
7 Alien/Aliens (1979/1986)
Sigourney Weaver left a mark on popular culture with this role as she will likely forever be associated with Aliens. Ellen Ripley is portrayed as very cunning, demonstrated quite well in the end sequence of the first film where she subtly backs up into the space suit with no sudden movements so as not to incite the alien to rush forward then swiftly pops the airlock. She also demonstrates resourcefulness and very tactical decision making when using the proper technological advantages against the aliens or commanding troops and managing military resources with obvious strategic skill. The character isn’t all business however, displaying vulnerability along with very strong maternal instincts, as well as being saved on more than one occasion by someone else. It's worth noting that this series of films is very anti-corporation, always depicting corporate types as soulless a-holes who will do anything to turn a profit. The one person who seems to foil their plans is always a woman with good intentions, who's trying to put her family back together, characterized by her strong connection to Newt and her romantic interest in Hicks. But of course the corporation prevents her from forming the family she wants to form...hmm this reminds me of something.
6 Giant (1956)
This was a film that received enormous praise back when it was released, and for good reasons. A legendary cast (James Dean, Liz Taylor, Rock Hudson, even a young Dennis Hopper), Liz plays a woman who marries a cattle rancher in Texas. She ends up a housewife who takes care of the home but does so much more than just that. She is socially conscious, she challenges popular convention of the time by demanding that her opinions be given political merit, she raises a family and does a great job when we see how together the family remains. The film stresses the importance of family, and heavily as we see James Dean's character focused almost entirely on making it rich, and once he does it doesn't bring him much happiness; instead he ends up a sad and lonely old man who wishes he had the family that Taylor and Hudson's characters had put together. It pains me to admit that too few films have stressed the importance of the woman's role in a household as well as this one in the sixty years or so since it was released.
5 Basic Instinct (1993)
Yeah so she's a serial killer, so what? Not all portrayals of women in film need to be positive, just interesting and engaging. The purpose of this film is to ENTERTAIN, and it does so by the bucket load. Michael Douglas has had far more challenging films than this one, but the performance is effortless and cool. The key takeaway from this film is Sharon Stone's portrayal of a psychopath. It's interesting to note that lots of lesbians hated the film, stating that it depicted lesbians negatively but this perspective totally misses the point of the film and is an early symptom of SJW's (social justice warriors) who don't understand that not all portrayals of characters are meant as generalizations. Anyway back to Stone, she plays the psychopath with such precision and nails all the characteristics; perpetual boredom, impulse control disorder, thrill seeking behavior, violent tendencies, brazen manipulation, total lack of empathy, and it's possibly the best portrayal of a female psychopath in film. Also the ending is left totally ambiguous, we don't know if it's going to happen or not, but regardless you should watch this film.
4 The Blind Side (2009)
Another really positive portrayal of a woman with strong motherly instincts demonstrating that being motherly isn't weak or submissive but rather empowering and admirable. Sandra Bullock won an Oscar for this role, although I would think some of that had to do with the fact that she quasi-adopted a rather massive young black kid from a very different socioeconomic background to prove that with a new environment a person can flourish, and the fact that it was based on a true story lent a ton of weight to this film's message. This sort of film resonates really well with audiences, and in fact there's scientific backing to it. If you take a good look at The Blind Side, it's really a celebration of the importance of having nurturing parents, particularly those who encourage you to dream big and aspire to what you want to do. Bullock handles this role brilliantly and is able to navigate a traditionally male driven world (College Football) with ease.
3 Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)
A really interesting visual portrayal of a woman coming into her power and how destructive she can be during this key period of self discovery. One of her mentors is a hate filled woman, another is a wise and powerful martial arts master. Her path teeters between the two, and causes great harm to her true master, who meets a tragic fate partially because he did not capitalize on the many opportunities he had to profess his feelings for his partner in crime fighting over the years. The powerful young woman, filled with anger and chaos, yearns to escape her forced marriage and to submit to a dominant man, and eventually does, the leader of a band of thieves. It's worth noting that the film in essence suggests that a woman's rage and emotional volatility is dangerous if not given the right outlet to guide it. We see the effects of following the hate filled woman in her destructive nature, then we see her becoming wiser as she begins to follow the teachings of Chow Yun Phat's character. Michelle Yeoh's character is a woman who exhibits too much restraint, and in the end she is alone and mourns the loss of her lifelong love. What the film seems to suggest is that man and woman are symbiotic together, and one without the other cannot find true equilibrium.
2 Thelma and Louise (1994)
I have to preface this by saying I personally would not watch this movie if I stumbled on it flipping channels, I'm not the target audience for it at all, but I am willing to acknowledge that it's a strong film with two very interesting characters that oppose each other that are both played by very talented women. Susan Sarandon plays the smarter, toughened woman, Geena Davis plays the naive, emotionally vulnerable one and they play off each other quite well. It's a tragedy at its core, which seems to suggest that there are too many sleazy men out there and not enough with character. Michael Madsen and Harvey Keitel are the exceptions to this, the rest being portrayed as sniveling worms more or less. Consider this film a social critique of modern society's inability to protect women from themselves. Yes, you didn't just read that last phrase wrong, the impulsive nature of the girls is what gets them into such trouble, making too many emotional decisions and not enough rational ones, which is what causes their ultimate demise. I'm not saying the film is right about its message, but that is the message of the movie.
1 The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
This one takes the cake for me; the one movie I keep referring to when I see how poorly so many female characters are depicted in current films. I almost want to scream at these filmmakers to go see Silence of the Lambs so they can see how it’s done properly. Clarice Starling dares to meet with the extremely dangerous and genius Hannibal Lecter and actually succeeds in getting what she needs out of him, information as to the whereabouts of the Buffalo Bill, and at the end he respects her enough not to go after her! This character is feminine, cunning, intelligent, articulate, fearless, daring, the list goes on. She has moments of sheer panic and vulnerability, proving she’s human, and is willing to dive into the unknown with little to no regard for the consequences. Of course, her behavior is somewhat justified by a clearly traumatic past which gave her this fearlessness and an overpowering desire to help the needy, her character is partly justified by her history and is not necessarily a message of how women in general should behave. It’s a solid take on a female lead, that is engaging and extremely plausible. Is it so hard to ask that more female characters be written like this one? Granted Jodie Foster is one of the best female actresses of the 20th century, and is sadly criminally underused in films these days.